Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Handmade Blade

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying - from "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", Bob Dylan, 1965

New York, late September 2001
"Isn't that ISIL stuff terrible," I asked rhetorically of an old friend the other night.

It was during a phone call. I was talking to an ex-ex in Australia. Catching up. I knew him well. But that was in another country ...

An intelligent man. A peace-loving man. An educated man. A grew-up-in-the-sixties-sort-of man.

ISIL had just been reported as having beheaded around twenty one Coptic Christians in Egypt. Exactly how many? Not sure. Did we even know the victims' names? Did we care? Well, speaking for myself, I care. But not enough.

And then came the spiel.

 I should have know better. I should have not even raised the subject.

"Yeah, well, it is all America's fault," my old friend intoned. Like a broken record.

"What?" I answered, holding my ground. "The United States didn't behead anyone..." "Yeah but," he answered.  "If America hadn't elected Bush and gone into Iraq..." and so on and so forth.... I changed the subject. Trying to find some neutral ground. After all, this was/is an old friend.

But in the back of my mind, the logical me, was thinking, "Why is he saying this? After all, I am an American. How insulting. He can think what he likes, but a little diplomacy could perhaps be in order? Not to mention logic."

I was asking too much.

For Christ's sake, when are these people going to stop blaming what they call "America" for all the ills in this world? At least get the geography right. Don't lump Chile, Brazil and Argentina, let alone Canada in with the USA. At least get the the country right.

When will it ever end? Why not blame England? George III - the mad English king who lost the American colonies? Surely, if he'd had a grip on reality, he might have kept them ... the colonies - "New England" that is.

No "United States", no "America" no "ISIL". Surely in this man's mind, and the minds of so many like him, this follows as night follows day. We can't blame "America" - the name given so lightly, so incorrectly, to the United States of America - if it didn't exist.

And it - the country, my second country, only exists as a geo-political entity because of (gasp!) "colonialism". Like Vietnam, Rwanda, Nigeria, India, white Australia. The political-geographical state of the world in 2015 is not the fault of the current citizens of the USA. Certainly not of mine. And yet ...

I put up with it when Al-Qaeda murdered 3,000 people on 9-11. Not wanting to argue, and rendered fragile when my city was attacked, I remained silent when the phone lines were restored and I heard people tell me it was all "America's fault".

Now 14 years later I have had enough. We can blame history. We can blame Bush, G W Bush,, Clinton, Carter, Washington. We can blame King George III of England, or the Quakers before him. We can blame Henry 8th. We can blame the Puritans. The Vikings maybe? We can blame ourselves.

To my old friend - and he is just one of many - can we please dare to get over it.

And blame ISIL.

Monday, February 02, 2015

The Old Person in the Room

We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game - from "The Circle Game", Joni Mitchell, 1968

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma - from "Guantanamera", José Fernández, long time ago

Bus Stop, Third Avenue, Winter 2014
I looked up. Three pairs of hands were stretching toward me. New York hands. Different shades of color human.

I'd slipped on some ice on the curb as I was about to cross the road. I'd gone flying and my left leg was half-twisted beneath me,

New Yorkers, being New Yorkers were quick to help. I staggered into an upright position and thanked them. "Yes I was OK," I answered their concern.

As I walked away it occurred to me that the concern was perhaps because I looked old. Frail even! Was this the beginning of the end? Could I expect more falls? I started thinking with alarm of those TV advertisement about old people needing to wear medical bracelets that send out help signals should they fall over alone in their homes.

"She's had a fall," I remember hearing old people say to other old people when I wasn't an old person.

It can't be. Baby boomers don't get old.

On the bus. It's freezing. The bus door stays wide open while "seniors" clamber on board maneuvering their walkers. God, don't let it ever be me.

The bus lurches forward. The people-with-walkers watch them spin around wildly. It's chaos. It's hell. I'm in a bus full of wet New Yorkers.

"Stop the bus!" one of them yells.

The bus lurches backwards and the driver and all the rest of the passengers peer anxiously out the fogged-up windows. Had someone been hit by a car? Fallen? A child perhaps.

The yelling-out person gets to her feet. "It's my friend Miriam," she explains to all of us wet people. "She left her hat on the bus." Those wet people who were young enough to hear rolled their eyes. The bus driver, a seasoned New York bus driver, patiently opened the door so that the yelling-out-person could call to her friend. The cold air streamed in.

Through the windows we can see a blur of a woman with a walker. She's looking puzzled. "Your hat, Miriam!" screams Yelling-Out-Person. "Your favorite hat." And eventually Miriam understands, and ever so slowly pushes her walker through the snow to the open bus door.

The hat handed over, Yelling-Out-Person turns in triumph to address us. "It is hard enough to find a decent hat these days," she announces. With a Dame Everage smile and New York chutzpah.

It takes me forever to get home. The less time we have left on this earth, the more value it has. Time is becoming a scarce commodity. It is precious. When you are three years old a year is a third of your life and it takes forever. Those long summer holidays when we were children. Those long years at university, and later when our children were infants.

Then suddenly a year is nothing. The equivalent of an infant's minute.

Time is no longer on your side, Mr Jagger.

I watch the news on my iPad. Some CNN crap. I click on the video link and there's an ad for a car I couldn't care less about. A car! More likely I'll be in the market for a walker already!

What's this? "You can skip this ad in five seconds" in tiny writing on the video screen. Five, four, three seconds ... My life is ticking away before my very eyes. Bastards!

I stomp on the "x" with my mouse.

Killing Time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Caught in a Silken Net of Happy Endings

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. - "Kubla Khan", Samuel Taylor Coleridge

He shew'd me lilies for my hair,
And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
Where all his golden pleasures grow. - "How sweet I roam'd from field to field", Willian Blake

I think of "The Pilgrims", who kick-started what we know as modern America, as a dour mob.

Looking down their noses at anything that smacked of "pleasure" and preaching the benefits of hard work. Wearing buckle shoes and strange hats, the men growing corn, the women making pumpkin pies.

But then, my knowledge of 17th century American history is not all that good.

It is hard to imagine those dour settlers - Americans nowadays being seekers of pleasure. For although there is an impression held by many that Americans live to work, while most of the world works to live, I don't find this to be the case at all.

Americans live for happiness - a happiness that those not living here may find saccharin.

The love of happy endings in films, the Norman Rockwell paintings, the love of fast food, any food - it is all about being happy.

Along with searching for happiness is what can come across as over-politeness.

"Why can't they get to the point?" I used to think to myself when calling customer service with some complaint,  only to be greeted by a cheery voice asking me how my day was going.

"Hello, My name is Madison, thank you for banking with Chase. How are you feeling today? What is the weather like there?  I see you are calling from New York. I've always wanted to go there. And your accent -  English? No, Australian. Oh I've always wanted to go to Australia. What's the weather like there?"

It used to drive me into a blind fury and I'd snap back that all I wanted to know was the answer to the question I was calling about. I now realize it is just easier and quicker in the long run to answer their questions. To be NICE.

West Village, Manhattan
The icing on the cake. The need to look on the sunny side. Where else would margarine be branded "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter"? Or already sweet potatoes be served with marshmallows?

A blistery blustery night. The cab driver had dropped me two blocks from my destination due to the traffic snarl. The rain was bucketing down, the wind blowing me sideways. I was completely disoriented. I looked up searching for the lit-by-a-million-lights of Bloomingdale's façade, but it was nowhere.

People were rushing in every direction, heads down, bent over, fighting the wind. I stopped a woman and asked her which way was Bloomingdale's. She turned and pointed me in the right direction, telling me I was on the wrong street. We were hardly visible to each other in the rainy darkness. I thanked her.

 Before moving on she smiled and said, "Oh, you are so very welcome."

Such a contrast to Melbourne Australia - my "home country" as Americans from other countries refer to their country of origin.

The last time I was in the Melbourne's city center - the Bourke Street Mall -  the only person who spoke to me was a weeping spaced-out poor-looking woman of a certain age. Actually it was me who spoke first.

"Are you OK, can I help you?" She told me her boyfriend had kicked her out after he had nearly beaten her to death and she wanted to go home to Mildura but he had taken all her money to spend on drugs. I asked her what it cost to go by train to  Mildura. She told me forty bucks. I gave it to her. She stopped weeping.

That evening I was out at a restaurant with friends and told them of my encounter. They stared at me and laughed. "Jeez mate, you fell for that chestnut? She was a junky. Come in sucker!  You've been in Yankeeland too long. You must be loaded giving away that kind of money."

"Glad I could amuse you. Thank you for enlightening me," I answered.

I waited for the "Oh, but you are so very welcome."

I am still waiting.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Homosexual Fish

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain - "Horse with no Name", Dewey Bunnell, 1971

I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member - Groucho Marx

Metrosexual Flowers
I joined an online book club. I've never been a member of an online book club. Or any sort of book club for that matter.

The last online group I joined was a knitting group, and for some never-to-be-known-reason, I was chucked out. No ceremony. No warning. For god's sake, I was once a member of the Australian Labor Party, and THAT club allowed me in!

So it was with some trepidation that I joined the Facebook group - The Australians Abroad Book Club.

I recommend this club most highly. It has every quality that a good club should have.

In the first place - oh I love saying, "In the first place." It is so President Obama. Even if it is something he has said before, he loves prefacing his announcement with, "In the first place."

But back to business. In the first place, you have to be Australian. I don't think non-Australians could last five minutes in this club. You need PERSEVERANCE.

You need perseverance to use the meeting software. It has a funny name, like "nip in the bud". Hang on and I will look it up.

Back again. "Hip Chat" - that's the name of the software. I think that Hip Chat must have been written before computers were even invented. It is almost impossible to load. And then, after you have loaded it, you are presented with a vague sort of screen with nothing to click on.

Try as you might, you get nowhere. At frst I thought it was just me, and that me being a software engineer had something to do with my inability to find a hyperlink or anything 'clickable'. But no.  A very good friend, who used to live in Silicon Valley, and who I know for a fact can use more apps than anyone else in cyberspace - SHE couldn't get into the book club either.

A challenge. I cant let a challenge go by. I persevered, and sixty minutes later  I "got in". So did my ex-Silicon Valley friend.

At around the same time. Two person-hours altogether. We got in on the end of the discussion. I think the other people were Australians from Philadelphia  and Germany. That might explain it, though I can't see how.

The discussion was in full flight. About "The Slap" by Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas.

The Shining revisited - Me at my door
I joined in. No, I didn't like Rosie and why anyone would marry a guy named "Gary" I didn't know. I saw my friend ex-Silicon  Valley was still on. She didn't like Gary either, though I expect it was because he was a Chardonnay Socialist.

On and on they chatted. Giving the novel scores, and doing "what ifs". What if Harry was  faithful to his wife,  and what if Ailsa didn't sleep with the man in South Africa?

I just followed it all. Rendered somewhat numb form having tried to load the software for over one hour. I think they all forgot I was there. I had to wake them up.

And so here is my  "In the second place" thing.

Knowing our December novel is "Barracuda" also by Christos Tsiolkas,I decided to remind everyone.  I forgot how to spell Barracuda so I typed, "Don't forget December's novel,  about the homosexual fish."  Cyber silence. There's nothing like it.

A bit concerned that no one had answered, I belatedly typed, "Spoiler alert!"

A couple of people contributed smiley faces, but I remembered about the knitting group. I decided I would be on my best  behavior.

There was a discussion about what to read next. Someone in Washington DC  suggested "Rhubarb". I wrote that  was OK if it was on Kindle. Adding "I don't do paper." "Oh but don't you miss the smell of paper?" piped in someone from somewhere in Asia. "I don't sniff paper," I answered. "I don't even sniff cocaine."

Silence again. I fear my days in the book club  are numbered.

In the first place, I did the spoiler thing. And then in the first place I said the cocaine word.

Oh how I love you President Obama!

In the first place .....